Ruins of a building after a fire

Recovering After a Fire or Explosion

I have never lost a loved one, been injured or had all of my possessions destroyed by a negligently caused fire or explosion, but I know very well that it can happen. I have seen it many times.

As an attorney experienced in seeking damages against utilities, contractors, product manufacturers, and other businesses whose negligent acts cause homes or commercial buildings to catch on fire or explode, I have met with a number of families and business owners who have had their lives turned upside down. My clients are usually lucky enough to be absent when the fire or explosion occurs or able to get out the house before a fire spreads. However, in many cases, they suffer the total loss of their property, both structures and items.

The fire or explosion can happen a number of ways. If a contractor does not install a fireplace precisely to manufacturers specifications and in accordance with the guidelines published by the National Fire Protection Association, the defect in installation may cause a fire immediately upon the first use of the fireplace. Or, the defect may lurk for years and eventually turn a periodic smoldering of wood studs to a full-fledged fire while you or your loved ones are home asleep.

An explosion can occur if a heating and cooling contractor does not follow applicable guidelines or protocol to check for leaks when your pilot light mysteriously will not stay lit. Although natural gas and propane companies add odorants to what would otherwise be a completely odorless and tasteless gas, a leak in the wrong place can result in the odorant being filtered out by the ground or the gas being retained in the walls. After some time, the first spark from anything—the heater kicking on, turning on a light, or even a bolt of lightening—can cause an enormous explosion.

A fire can also occur due to a product defect. There has been much litigation in the United States over whether or not corrugated stainless steel tubing (also know as “CSST”), is unreasonably dangerous because of a design defect. CSST is basically flexible gas tubing. Contractors like CSST because it takes less time to install, which can result in lower construction costs. CSST is gas tubing that may be present in your home or commercial space right now. The allegation of defect is that lightning strikes hitting away from your home or business (not a direct hit) can travel into the gas piping and cause a microscopic hole that allows gas to escape. The spark can simultaneously cause the gas to ignite, resulting in a blowtorch effect. There are many documented instances of this occurring.

This does not even begin to exhaust the possible ways your home or business can catch on fire due to negligent construction, manufacturing or installation. It may even be as simple as a contractor negligently disposing of a cigarette in your back yard while on a break.

In any case, hopefully you have insurance—both house insurance and health insurance. Many people may not realize that when a fire or explosion occurs in a property, the property insurance company usually spends a lot of money on fire investigators, engineers and other experts in an attempt to find out what happened. The insurance company does this because it may be possible to point the finger at another party as being the cause of the damage, in which case they will seek recovery of what they pay you pursuant to your insurance policy.

The insurance companies should take care of your damages and injuries, of course, if you have the right coverage. However, sometimes you will suffer uninsured property loss, lost wages, loss of use, personal injury, or death of a loved one that is not covered by insurance (or that could never be made “better” by insurance). In those instances, an attorney experienced in fire and explosions can help you recover the award to which you are entitled. He or she will also make sure that the insurance company does not try to leave you out in the cold in its own attempts to make a recovery.

In the case of personal injury or loss of a loved one, you are likely entitled to the recovery of significant amounts despite the existence of insurance and provided that there is an at fault party. In Kansas and Missouri, for example, your health insurer cannot pursue recovery of medical benefits paid to you for injuries. Rather, you can seek recovery of the damages yourself on top of the pain and suffering damages to which you are most certainly entitled.

Money will never make up for the horrifying experience of a fire or explosion taking your health, property or loved ones from you. But it will bring justice by requiring those responsible to pay for what they have done either out of their own pocket or from their insurance companies, and it will help you begin to restore a sense of normalcy to which you were deprived.